Monday, October 10, 2016

UPDATED WITH SCHEDULED ORAL ARGUMENT Texas' Intellectual Disability Idiocy - Part III

UPDATED 10/22/2016: SCOTUS released the remainder of November and December oral argument schedule following their weekly Friday conference on October 22, 2016. Moore v. Texas has been scheduled for oral argument on Tuesday, November 29, 2016. It is the only case scheduled for argument that day.

ORIGINAL POST: This is the third in a series of posts on Moore v. Texas, currently pending before the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS). The case presents a legal challenge to the Texas death penalty scheme - how Texas defines and analyzes what are called Atkins claims. Atkins claim proceedings determine whether an otherwise death penalty eligible defendant is intellectually disabled (ID) and therefore ineligible for the ultimate state punishment.

The legal issue before SCOTUS is the use of factors named after the case in which they first appeared, Ex parte Briseno. Moore and his supporters in SCOTUS (amici), the Association of Psychiatric Association (APA), and the American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD), argue these Briseno factors, and, more generally, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) approach in reviewing Atkins claims, violate SCOTUS's exclusion of the ID from the death penalty. In a nutshell, Moore, the AAIDD and the APA argue the CCA has so disregarded clinical definitions of ID that Texas has violated the prohibition of excluding the ID from the death penalty.

Most of what appears in this post requires some understanding about the clinical criteria for ID and a working knowledge of the primary legal issues in Moore. I would encourage a review of the first two posts here (Part I), and here (Part II). The legal importance is not just the immediate case. If SCOTUS finds Moore's arguments correct it could mean almost fifteen years of Atkins claim litigation in Texas will have to be redone.

Moore's Reply Brief (Reply Brief) to the State of Texas Merit's Brief (State's Brief) was filed on October 6, 2016. The Reply Brief hammers on three issues: First, Moore argues the Briseno factors, contrary to the State's assertions, are not optional in Texas; second, that the Briseno factors, and by extension, the CCA, improperly weigh a defendant's adaptive deficits against adaptive strengths in review of a trial court's ID determination; and third, that medical science does not require a strict causation relationship between intellectual deficits and adaptive behavior deficits. In other words, Moore, the APA and the AAIDD argue there can be more than one cause (called co-morbidity) to the adaptive deficits found to exist in an individual.

In my second post, I attempted to analyze the State's Brief, but deferred a discussion of the fact intensive evidentiary record cited until the Reply Brief was filed. Moore opted for a more concise discussion of the evidentiary record than the State Brief. Nonetheless, it was effective:
At age 13, Moore still lacked a basic understanding of the days of the week, the seasons of the year, and telling time. He spent his days at school often drawing pictures because he was unable to read, write, or keep up with lessons. As the trial court concluded—applying the medical community’s current diagnostic framework—Moore has significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning (as reflected in his numerous IQ test scores under 75, including one relied upon by the CCA); significant and related limitations in adaptive functioning (as evidenced by, inter alia, his abysmal school records and test scores; the fact that he failed first grade and received only social promotions every year thereafter; his withdrawn social behavior; his limited communication skills; and his score of 2.5 standard deviations below the mean on the State expert’s adaptive-behavior test); and all of these characteristics manifested during childhood. It was only by rejecting the medical community’s diagnostic framework, and instead analyzing [Moore's] intellectual-disability claim under its fundamentally flawed Briseno framework—in which the low end of the IQ range was erroneously dismissed, purported strengths were given primacy, the non-clinical Briseno factors were 'weigh[ed] heavily' and an insurmountable and clinically unsound causation requirement was imposed—that the CCA was able to conclude otherwise.
The Reply Brief's final broadside before concluding:
In sum, the CCA reviews Atkins claims to ensure relief is granted only to those individuals whom it perceives as having 'that level and degree of mental retardation at which a consensus of Texas citizens would agree that a person should be exempted from the death penalty.' [citing Briseno] Its distorted (and often arbitrary) approach to analyzing claims of intellectual disability is irreconcilable with the medical community’s diagnostic framework. No other State prohibits consideration of the current diagnostic framework or interprets the three-prong definition of intellectual disability in a similar manner—nor does Texas itself in any context other than the death penalty. 
The briefing in this case is now finished and the case is ready to be set for oral argument. I expect that to be scheduled in spring, 2017.

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